Today, Common Cause Indiana and several registered voters in Saint Joseph County – Mary Frederick, John Justin Collier, William Marks Jr., and Minnie Lee Clark – filed suit against Secretary of State Connie Lawson and members of the St. Joseph County Election Board for rejecting outright their absentee ballots with purported signature mismatches in violation of their due process and equal protection rights under the federal constitution.
Under Indiana’s constitutionally-flawed absentee voter laws, signatures on absentee ballot envelopes are reviewed and deemed as matches – or not – with other signatures on file by county election officials. Absentee ballot counters are given no training, no standards, and no regulations to follow when evaluating signatures. Neither are they connected with experts on handwriting. Individual signatures may vary for a number of reasons – including age, disability, and limited-English proficiency – yet Indiana provides no training to elections administrators in handwriting analysis. These election officials are thus without any expertise and unable to determine with any reasonable degree of accuracy whether a submitted signature is “genuine” or not. As a result of Indiana’s constitutionally defective laws, hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots submitted in the 2018 general election were invalidated, and these eligible voters were disenfranchised through no fault of their own.
These voters, moreover, were given no notice of the perceived signature problem, nor any opportunity to confirm their signature in order to have their valid vote counted. Had constitutionally-required procedural safeguards been in place, county election officials would not have rejected hundreds of mail-in absentee ballots in the last election as well as in prior elections. Those votes are forever lost, but remedies requiring Indiana to conform to federal constitutional requirements can ensure that eligible citizens’ voices don’t go unheard in future elections.
“Thousands of Indiana voters have had their ballots rejected by elections officials and those voters were never even notified that their votes were not counted,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “Some voters may well have had their ballots rejected for years under this faulty system, and state and county officials have never even bothered to tell those voters that they have been disenfranchised through this unfair and undemocratic system.”
“Our votes are our voice in our government, yet this system has stripped far too many citizens of their right to choose their elected representatives,” said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn. “This system is deeply flawed and we trust the court will side with the voters who were wrongly and unknowingly disenfranchised and end this unconstitutional and undemocratic system once and for all.”
Over the years, thousands of votes have been lost due to Indiana’s haphazard process. Our action today seeks to prevent this from continuing to happen to voters who exercise their right to vote by mail in the future.
To ensure every eligible vote cast is counted, plaintiffs seek both a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the continued enforcement of the current law. Courts across the country have granted relief in the form of due process in similar cases. Common Cause Indiana and the individual plaintiffs seek a similar favorable outcome in this case.
Plaintiffs are represented by William R. Groth and David T. Vlink of Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe, LLC, and Mark Sniderman of Findling Park Conyers Woody & Sniderman, PC.
To read the suit, click here.